Brent Walker loses pounds 427.4m: Debt-ridden group writes down property assets by pounds 240m

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BRENT WALKER, the debt-ridden pubs and gambling group built up by George Walker, suffered a pre-tax loss of pounds 427.4m last year. The result, even worse than 1991's pounds 407.3m deficit, came after writing down the value of property assets by pounds 240m.

About pounds 210m of the write-down came from the Pubmaster chain, which was recently doubled in size to 2,000 units. The other pounds 29.9m write- down related to Brent's property development land.

Brent Walker underwent a pounds 1.5bn restructuring in March 1992 but still carries debts of pounds 1.3bn.

Sir Keith Bright, who took over as executive chairman five months ago, said that interest payments fell to pounds 204.4m from pounds 235.8m a year earlier, but still 'inevitably further weakened the balance sheet'. He added that the prolonged deep recession had delayed progress and made disposals more difficult.

'The disposal programme of the non-core businesses has not developed in the way originally anticipated, largely because the market for many of the assets has been very weak,' he said.

The company would continue to dispose of minor assets at the best possible prices, leading to a reduction in overall operating costs, although this would depend on the market and on timing.

John Leach, Brent's finance director, said the company was now rethinking how and when to sell Brent's biggest property assets - marinas in Brighton, Puerto Sherry in Spain and a docklands development in Cardiff - which were earmarked for disposal under the restructuring business plan.

On the pub write-downs, Mr Leach said that Brent was following the rest of the brewing industry. Whitbread wrote its own pubs down by pounds 600m last week.

Recent management turmoil at the top led to speculation that the group would be broken up. Ken Scobie resigned as chief executive in January and Nicholas Ward resigned as managing director in May.

The company said yesterday it was not looking for another group chief executive but was instead relying on divisional chief executives, John Brackenbury at Pubmaster and John Brown at William Hill.

Operating profit before exceptional items rose 8.6 per cent to pounds 49.5m and the company cut central overheads from pounds 11.5m to pounds 6.3m. Loss per share narrowed to 159.25p from 801.89p. The shares were unchanged at 10p.

Mr Walker, who was declared one of Britain's biggest bankrupts in April with debts of pounds 180m, was told yesterday he could not proceed with a pending appeal against the judgment unless he put up pounds 18,000 in advance to cover part of his opponent's legal costs should the appeal fail.

The Court of Appeal granted the 'security for costs' order to Raymond Hocking, of the accountants Stoy Hayward, who originally obtained the bankruptcy ruling.